Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Joseph Kaiser as Tamino [Photo by Mike Hoban courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
06 Feb 2011

Die Zauberflöte, Covent Garden

Premiered in 2003, and aired again in 2005 and 2008, this current revival of David McVicar’s Die Zauberflöte brings many ‘old hands’ back together to re-visit oft-frequented roles on familiar ground.

W. A. Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

Tamino: Joseph Kaiser; Pamina: Kate Royal; Papageno: Christopher Maltman; Queen of the Night: Jessica Pratt; Sarastro: Franz-Josef Selig; Monostatos: Peter Hoare; Speaker of the Temple: Matthew Best; Papagena: Anna Devin; First Lady: Elisabeth Meister; Second Lady: Kai Rüütel; Tird Lady: Gaynor Keeble. David McVicar, Director. Colin Davis, Conductor. John Macfarlane, Designer. Paule Constable, Lighting designer. Leah Hausmann, Movement director. Lee Blakeley, Revival director. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Tuesday 1 February 2011.

Above: Joseph Kaiser as Tamino

All photos by Mike Hoban courtesy of The Royal Opera House

 

This production’s first and only Sarastro, Franz-Josef Selig, steps back into the High Priest’s hallowed shoes; several esteemed soloists from the 2008 run return - Christopher Maltman reprising his confident, mischievous Papageno, and Kate Royal once again presenting a dignified and elegant Pamina. With the original conductor, Sir Colin Davis, at the helm, a smooth sailing should be guaranteed; however, there were a few unexpected wobbles on this opening night, and if the ship didn’t hit the rocks it certainly lost its moorings on occasion.

John Macfarlane’s designs are still strikingly sumptuous: effortless transitions between lavish tableaux, packed with period details and evocatively lit by Paule Constable, transport one — as if gliding aloft a magic carpet — to other worlds. Die Zauberflöte is a compendium of styles, forms and moods: Masonic mysticism rubs shoulders with pantomime farce; erudite Enlightenment philosophy sits alongside an earthy tale of human endeavour and love. And McVicar and his designer, John Macfarlane, skilfully conjure and combine these domains: scientific astronomical apparatus whisk us back to an empirical eighteenth-century, the sweeping glare of an outsized crescent moon casts a supernatural spell. So, it is perhaps all the more surprising that a few ‘false notes’ are allowed to creep in.

ZAUBER-1024_0508-MALTMAN&RO.gifChristopher Maltman as Papageno and Kate Royal as Pamina

Maltman’s Papageno is warm-hearted and exuberant. Although perhaps not exploiting the full colour range and power of his increasingly varied palette and rich baritonal resonance, Maltman revelled in the moments of comedic flippancy and fun; admittedly this was sometimes at the expense of rhythmic precision, and he occasionally lost touch with the pit — thereby unintentionally emphasising the bird-catcher’s anarchic streak.

As Sarastro, Franz-Josef Selig, struck an imposing physical figure: regal, poised and self-possessed. His diction was impressive (alone among the cast, his is singing in his native tongue), and although he took a little while to settle down in, particularly in the middle range, his performance was commanding and secure.

Kate Royal’s soprano is strong, sure and gorgeous in tone, but while gracious and composed, I feel that physically and vocally she lacks some of the child-like naivety which is integral to the role of Pamina. There was no doubting the beauty and grace of her vocal line. Her duet with Papageno, ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’, was achingly touching, but was equalled in affecting loveliness by ‘Ach, ich fühl's’. Royal’s strength and control were not quite matched by her Tamino, Joseph Kaiser, and this was particularly noticeable in the lover’s ‘reunion scene’. Kaiser’s portrayal was rather one-dimensional but he compensated for some occasionally wooden acting with a flexible, light voice aptly conveying the youthful optimism and bravery of the idealistic hero.

ZAUBER-1024_0148-(C)MIKE-HO.gifFrom Left To Right: Elisabeth Meister as First Lady, Jessica Pratt as Queen of the Night, Kai Rüütel as Second Lady and at the back, Gaynor Keeble as Third Lady

As the Queen of the Night, Jessica Pratt, making her role and house debut, had all the notes, and hit them cleanly. While her top notes were warm and true, without a hint of stridency or loss of power, her lower register projected less well and she did not really convey the menace of the would-be murderer. A general lack of dramatic and musical subtlety, as in the recitative to her first aria, ‘O zittre nicht’, diluted the impact of the Queen’s vengeful terrorising.

British tenor, Peter Hoare, was an eccentric Monostatos, who in this production is made to bear the bulk of the burden for creating comedy and lightness. A caricature villain, he is less dangerous racial threat, the embodiment of ‘otherness’, and more a harmless, if ridiculous, be-wigged dandy, the epitome of vanity. Matthew Best was an authoritative Speaker, imperiously directing Tamino to the ‘right path’, effectively establishing a moment of dramatic gravitas at the end of Act 1.

Several Jette Parker Young Artists were given opportunities to shine. The First and Second Ladies, Elisabeth Meister and Kai Rüütel respectively, were joined by the more experienced Gaynor Keeble to form a well-blended trio. Their stage-craft, however, seemed rather undirected, particularly in the opening scene where, given that the hand-manipulated, puppet serpent (just one of many of McVicar’s overt debts to eighteenth-century theatrical paraphernalia), though wonderfully charming, hardly chills the blood. Thus, the black-clad Ladies need to generate an air of peril and intimidation; but, rhythmic co-ordination was a little wayward and there was a lack of projection. As Papagena, JPYA Anna Devin — attractive both vocally and physically — should have been an irresistible ‘catch’ for Papageno. But, inexplicably, she was presented not as a beauty disguised as a beggar, but in attire more fitting for a bordello boudoir — no wonder Papageno looked away in disgust.

The chorus was rather ragged and some of the responsibility for the poor ensemble must rest with Sir Colin Davis, a supremely experienced Mozartian, but who nevertheless failed to pace this production effectively. After a wonderfully stately start to the overture — where the warm weight, focused intonation and glossy sheen of the horns powerfully established the mood of Masonic majesty — the Allegro failed to catch fire, and the spark of conflict and contrast which should drive the opera forward was never quite ignited. (Moreover, the orb-carrying extras wandering rather purposelessly through the stalls hardly helped matters.) Davis chooses to ignore the period performance specialists’ preference for pace and nimbleness; but while this should not prevent an effective dramatic momentum being achieved, some of the tempi were overly ponderous — particularly the Priests’ March and Sarastro’s ‘O Isis and Osiris’ at the opening of Act 2 which was decidedly sluggish. Indeed, even Selig lost contact with the pit, a rare moment of discomposure. Davis was however sensitive to the soloists, controlling dynamics and texture to provide appropriate accompanying support, especially in the case of the Three Boys (Jacob Ramsay-Patel, Harry Stanton and Harry Manton) who shone through — and stayed in time …

Overall this was an enjoyable, if slightly unsatisfactory, opening night. Perhaps insufficient time was allotted to this well-known revival; if so, things should improve as the run progresses.

[Die Zauberflöte continues in repertory until Saturday 19 February.]

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):